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Selective Stupidity

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Man: (In response to an unseen question) I have no intelligent guess.
Julian: Okay, do you want to make a stupid guess?

Look at how stupid people are! We spent weeks interviewing random passersby, and we found some people who thought that Africa was a country.

It's common for some shows and publications to imply that people as a whole (or particular people) are shockingly ignorant by taking amusingly incorrect samples from a vast number of statements. The examples can be found by combing the millions of published statements from public figures for mistakes, or by heading out and interviewing random people until you find someone who makes a mistake, or thinks it would be funny to pretend to.

Unfortunately, when shows do this to people from another country it tends to encourage bouts of Misplaced Nationalism, as it feeds the egos of those who believe people from the given country really are that stupid, and contrariwise enrage those from the country in question.

Documentaries about the past (The Atomic Café, for instance) often try to show how (supposedly) ignorant or naive people in, say, the The '50s were by showing stock footage of people doing or saying now-ridiculous things. The fact that the same handful of clips seem to be used in multiple documentaries demonstrates the weakness of this position.

By contrast, it can be done the other way to show how far standards have fallen. An exam from the past is given to modern children and surprise surprise —although those past children (who had studied the material it was testing) were able to pass it, today's children (studying a totally different syllabus) fail miserably.

Compare Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics, i.e., using credible-sounding statistics for deception; Accentuate the Negative, the act of complaining by emphasizing a subject's negative side and excluding all positives; and Push Polling, manipulating a poll's result to push an agenda. Sub-Trope of Manipulative Editing, when something is so heavily edited that it's hard to tell just where the "reality" begins; and of Lying by Omission, which is deliberately leaving out a part of a true statement.

Sub-Trope of Vox Pops, in which random citizens comment on recent events. Do not confuse with Obfuscating Stupidity when a smart character intentionally acts unintelligent for some purpose.



  • Dave Barry Slept Here: Parodied and subverted. During the introduction, the narration uses deceptive language to rant about American youths, who couldn't identify Lincoln as the telephone's inventor.
  • Non Campus Mentis: There are hundreds of amusingly flawed statements on world history, supposedly taken (out of context) from actual essays written by college students.
    "Zorroastrologism was founded by Zorro. It is a duelist religion."
    "An angry Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theocrats to a church door. The Pope's response was to declare Luther hereditary."

Live-Action TV

  • The Chaser:
    • The election specials:
      • The Election Chaser and The Chaser Decides have brief vox pops about the coming election from people, most of whom appear to be drunk, followed by the caption "This Person Votes/Voted."
        Woman: Vote liberal, and then John Howard's just going to leave it, leave it with Kim, Kim Beazley, isn't it?
      • In the 2013 special The Hamster Decides, Julian goes out and asks people for opinions on politics, with most of the questions being ridiculously dated. It starts with Julian asking someone to rate Malcolm Turnbull as Opposition Leader (a position he lost in 2009, which the first person does point out), progresses to asking people to rate Andrew Peacock as Opposition Leader (a position he lost in 1990), and gets sillier from there ("Should Australia undertake Federation?" "Should we introduce decimal currency?"). But while most of the responses shown fit this trope, the segment ends with a man launching into a rant about how he's not sure why Julian is asking whether the late Billy Hughes should challenge Kevin Rudd for leadership, and accusing Julian and the ABC of push-polling in a blatant attempt to inflate the ALP marketing. As he walks away, Julian calls this "a pretty good summary".
    • CNNNN:
      • This satirical news show has their roving reporter Julian Morrow in America asking passers-by which country America should invade next by placing flags on a map. A lot of people put their flags on Australia, which had been mislabelled as "Iran", "France" and "North Korea". Watch it here.
      • Julian also does a few segments asking general knowledge questions (see here and here). A particularly memorable one was a man who was asked "Who was the first man on the moon?" His answer: "You know, some people don't think that happened, they think it was reincarnated in Arizona somewhere."
    • The Chaser's War On Everything:
      • The American correspondent Chris Firth roamed the streets of New York asking people the date of the 9/11 attacks. Not the year, but the date. Some people got it wrong!
      • The team has acknowledged their use of this trope in the DVD commentaries, in one case contrasting what they usually do with a stunt that was made more hilarious by the fact that they didn't have to search hard for people to fall for it, specifically Chas playing a literal Snake Oil Salesman.
  • The Late Show (1992): Some of Tony and Mick's vox pops segments, such as their attempt to find out how well people actually know the Australian national anthem.
  • The Man Show: The hosts collect signatures from women to "End Women's Suffrage," just by phrasing it as if "suffrage" was a synonym for "suffering." To their credit, they did show several people pointing out how dumb that is and trying to correct people who had been duped, demonstrating that not everyone they met was ignorant enough to fall for it.
  • Match Game: When quizzed "(Blank) Tennessee", the contestant comes up with Mississippi.
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit!:
    • A woman is sent to an environmental festival to collect signatures to ban "Dihydrogen monoxide" because of its harmful effects (if you inhale it, you'll die) and its prevalence (your children are exposed to it every day) and she collected a ton of them. For those whose chemistry is rusty, "Dihydrogen monoxide" is water.
    • People are given a petition to effectively end free speech and the right to protest. A few people were shown signing it over the course of the episode... at the end, they showed clips of the vast majority of people who refused in disgust.
  • Street Smarts: The game show bases itself around this trope. Contestants are shown clips of people on the street being quizzed and must predict whether they'll be able to come up with the (usually pretty obvious) correct answers.
  • This Hour Has 22 Minutes: Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans segments.
    • Sometimes, passers-by are asked questions by Rick Mercer. Some illustrious examples include: "Do you find it appalling that 70% of Grade 7 students in Canada, can not find their state on an unmarked map?" This was actually a statistic about American kids being bad at geography. Very few people caught on. A particularly memorable example was a mother going on about how shameful it was only to have her very young son pipe up with "Wait a minute! Canada's got provinces!"
    • Mercer's also managed to dupe Mike Huckabee, George W. Bush, an Ivy League professor, and nearly every member of the Canadian Parliament since the early 1990s into saying or doing asinine things.
  • The Tonight Show: Jay Leno's tenure as host features a segment called Jaywalking, in which Leno is filmed collecting examples of ignorance from people on the street. Usually, his questions are about geography, U.S. history, or contemporary politics.


  • Private Eye:
    • There's a regular feature called "Dumb Britain", which lists wrong answers given to supposedly simple questions by quiz show contestants.
    • Often criticised in the letters pages. One 'dumb answer' was to the question 'Where do Panama hats come from" which was answered with 'Luton'.note  A letter pointed out that this was a perfectly reasonable response since the answer was obviously not 'Panama'.

Web Videos

  • Andre the Black Nerd: Andre begins his review of Ghostbusters (2016) by telling the story of the backlash he got for his review of the film's trailer, which came from both sides who each chose to only focus on one half of his review that took a middle-ground "positives and negatives" approach.

Real Life

  • Google once did a survey of passersby in Times Square to see how many knew what a browser was. Very few did. It was so amusing that they posted it on YouTube where it proved popular.
  • Child reporters on Germany's public broadcasting channel ARD once asked members of parliament and other politicians about the internet. Among the most infamous responses was the minister of justice's reply to what browser she uses: "Brauser? Remind me again, what's a Brauser?".